Athos is the leader of the group known as The Three Musketeers from Alexandre Dumas Pere's novel LE TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES/THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844). Like his fellow Musketeers Porthos and Aramis, Athos makes a dueling opponent with the young D'Artagnan (when the Gascon accidentally bumps into his wounded shoulder), but eventually becomes his friend. Athos had a past as a nobleman known by the title of Comte de le Fere. However, his past turned tragic when he learned the woman he loved and married was a criminal branded with the fluer-de-lis. The betrayal broke the Comte into forsaking his past life and nobility. Now a cynical realist fond of drinking, Athos is nevertheless loyal to his Musketeer comrades, especially D'Artagnan whom he loves like a son. Unlike Porthos and Aramis, Athos is given a major role in many of the film adaptations, with his association with his former wife- now Milady de Winter- a major dramatic plot point carried over from the novel. However, like Porthos and Aramis, he is given a small role in many film adaptations of THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.
The 1921 United Artists/Douglas Fairbanks version and its sequel THE IRON MASK omit Athos' past and relationship with Milady.
The 1935 RKO Radio Pictures version has Athos with a Hungarian accent. Unlike the depressed character of the novel, this Athos has a rather friendly and cuddly personality. His only dramatic nature concerns his former wife Milady de Winter, who was branded for murdering his brother. He is reunited with Milady when the woman stops at a tavern with a captive D'Artagnan. He captures her and reveals her history to D'Artagnan. Reaching his ancestral home, Athos is unable to keep Milady from making a suicidal jump into the river.
The 1939 20th Century-Fox/Ritz Brothers version has Athos, Porthos, and Aramis quickly defeated and impersonated by the Three Lackeys.
The 1948 MGM version gives major focus to his relationship with Milady, whom he refers here as Charlotte. His backstory with her is altered in that her branding occurs AFTER their marriage (by his consent). Athos' association with Milady is ambiguous: Seeing her as an evil woman, Athos can't help but still love her. When they meet again after many years, Athos feels the urge to kiss her (she responds by trying to stab him). When it is learned that Constance has been made jailer to Milady in England, Athos fears his former wife's machinations and follows D'Artagnan to England to rescue her. They are too late as Charlotte has murdered Constance. Consoling his grief-stricken friend, Athos convinces D'Artagnan to have revenge. They pinpoint the murderess' whereabouts to a chateau in Lille- her old home with Athos. They capture the woman and bring the Executioner of Lille to exact final justice. Charlotte begs mercy, but Athos cannot dare to forgive her evil self. He kisses her again, giving Charlotte strength to go to her fate.
The 1974 Richard Lester version- THE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN'S DIAMONDS) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY)- gives Athos a more brutal nature in his fights. His drinking is also given a source of humor. These traits are continued in the 1989 sequel THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS.
The 1993 Disney version gives a different interpretation to Athos' relationship with Milady, here called Sabine. A happily married couple, Athos learns Sabine bears the fluer-de-lis brand on her shoulder- a mark for execution. He betrays her to the authorities. Believing her to be dead, Athos is surprised to cross paths with his former wife, now a minion of Cardinal Richelieu. He and the Musketeers capture her and learn that her brother-in-law Count de Winter wishes to condemn her for the death of his brother- her latest husband. Visiting her jail cell, Athos tries to gain from Sabine information about the Cardinal's plans but fails. The next morning the Musketeers, D'Artagnan, and Count de Winter witness Sabine's execution by beheading. At the last minute, Athos saves Sabine from the Executioner's sword, begging her forgiveness for betraying their love. Moved by this, Sabine tells everyone all she knows about the Cardinal's plans and commits suicide by jumping off a cliff.
The 1998 version of THE MAN OF THE IRON MASK has Athos opposing his former friend D'Artagnan. The latter is loyal to the corrupt King Louis XIV, who had Athos' adopted son Raoul assigned to a violent battle area to be killed so the King can have his fiancee. Athos joins Porthos and Aramis in helping Louis' secret twin brother Philippe replace the King for the good of France.